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Highly detailed insider's account,
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This review is from: Drama Between Budapest and Vienna: The Final Fighting of the 6th Panzer-Armee in the East - 1945 (Hardcover)
This book is a prodigious effort and I must admit that I was looking for it ever since I first saw it in German years ago in a small shop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber run by a former member of the 501st Schwere Panzer Abteilung. It is primarily a day by day account of the battles of the SS formations and has an apologist's stamp to it.
This book was written about a time when the German Army could no longer dictate the tempo at the strategic or operational level of war. However, at the tactical level, they remained highly effective. German formations remained capable of delivering hard blows in response to Soviet operations, but were no longer able to successfully conduct a major offensive operation. The high command, driven by Hitler, remained determined to do so however. This resulted in the grinding down by attrition of available combat power. At the height of their conquests, Germany had greater depth and capacity to make good losses, but that ability had long since vanished in the reverses of late 1943 and 1944. And now, beginning in December of 1944, there is the increasing realization that the conditions no longer exist for operations on a grand scale. This is a fact that Hitler refuses to accept. Carefully husbanded resources are squandered in attempting to force a decision in the face of adverse conditions and superior combat power. This merely creates the conditions for Soviet success at the operational level by writing down German strength and tying up reserves.
This is the case for the main event in this book, Operation "Spring Awakening", an ill conceived, ill timed offensive designed to keep Hungary and Hungarian resources in the war and protect Vienna. In events reminiscent of Burnside's "Mud March", the 6th Panzer Army struggled to mount a major offensive after pulling out of a major battle in the Ardennes. The fact that they were able to mount an offensive at all is a testament to their determination and ability. The wisdom of mounting it speaks less so. Heavy weapons, particularly in the case of the II SS Panzer Corps could not be brought forward by LD due to terrain and weather. There was little doubt about the location and timing of the offensive. Once begun, the offensive was characterized as much by the type of head- on bludgeoning that we consider more in the style of the Soviets. And yet there was some degree of success. However, as the offensive had obviously begun to run its course, it became apparent to operational commanders that danger lurked elsewhere, to the northern flank covered by Hungarian forces. Once again, the Soviets seized the initiative and began to dictate the course of events that lead to the eventual final surrender.
The dominant theme running through the book is the internal conflict between primarily General Hermann Balck and a variety of SS leaders, most specifically Gille, commander of the IV SS Panzer Corps and Dietrich, commander of the 6th Panzer Army. This was not the Hermann Balck who successfully commanded on the Eastern Front in 1943. By this period, he had tasted defeat at higher levels of command and was now commanding at the Army level. As the Germans became less able to win above the tactical level, it became increasingly important to avert blame, the price of failure could be high. The author's contention is that this had become Balck's prime concern and he sought to turn the spot light from himself to the SS formations and leadership as success became elusive. The author, as a member of the operations staff of the 6th Panzer Army, has his own ax to grind as well. He naturally seeks to defend the actions of the SS units, with some amount of justification. This conflict, while much the center piece, overlays the larger conflict within German command structures that overlays all operations by this point in the war.
This book is not for the casual reader. The expense alone will screen out much of the potential audience. It is highly detailed and is accompanied by a separate folio of maps - a must for trying to following the tale amid confusing names and the changing situation. I found myself having to stop periodically and carefully review the appropriate map references or in several cases I became completely lost. It is a day by day account of Army and Corps level operations, it draws from first person accounts and detailed sources. To get the individual or tactical perspective, I would recommend reading Hubert Meyer, Otto Weidinger, or Will Fey who are focused on the tactical level. I do not regret spending the money for this book, but it is neither easy nor casual reading. I highly recommend it. Just understand what you are signing up for from the start.